Swim Draft Run

Two weeks ago I wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Racing for USAT and the Director of Athlete and Information Services at IRONMAN about my experience at Ironman Texas. I got no response. I followed up. Radio silence.

My intent to share this letter is not to garner sympathy. I’m doing fine right now (I am very lucky). But rather, it is to show the complete disregard these organizing bodies have for the safety and integrity of our sport, as well as the lack of accountability. And that, I feel, is the real tragedy.

30171966_10214360304414537_7888405046331622323_o
1st loop pre-crash 🙂 | Credit: Philip Shama
_____
[note: pics not originally included in the email]

I hope that this letter finds you well. I would love to share with you my account of what transpired in The Woodlands this past weekend at Ironman Texas. In my 13 years of racing the sport of triathlon, I have never crashed in a race, nor have I ever felt unsafe in a race until last weekend.

First off, I am a USAT Level I coach and have coached athletes to finish lines of almost every distance including Ironman. I’m also in my first year of grad school pursuing my Doctor of Physical Therapy. The past 8 months have required meticulous time management skills to do well in school while fitting in the required time to train for Ironman Texas.

The view of my ‘finish line’ on Saturday was one of an MD in the medical tent evaluating me for a mild traumatic brain injury. The view inside the main med tent is never the one you want to see at the end of your race. 

Rewind to about 30 miles into the bike leg where I started to notice athletes coming back on the other side of Hardy Toll road, in huge pelotons, even some of the professionals. I was shocked and angry. Then a huge peloton came up on me from behind easily going 3 mph faster, riding 5-6 riders across the road, and boxed me in so I couldn’t escape. I eventually was able to drop back and distance myself the group (after yelling at other riders to let me move out of the way). This happened about 3 or 4 times. The entire race I had to be on my guard. It was stressful.

Around mile 60 on the bike course, another peloton blocked me in and then an athlete in front of me lost control of his bike and went down and I couldn’t react fast enough and also went down (along with 2 or 3 others). I smacked my head on the asphalt pretty hard going 25 mph and everything went blurry. It took about a minute for the double vision to go away as I lay in the middle of the road still clipped into my bike, trying to figure out what just happened. I was eventually able to get up and tried to assess my body and bike. My head was throbbing and I had blood all over my arm and hip. My bike had a screwed up front wheel and broken brake lever. Fortunately a few minutes later, tech support on a moto came riding towards me and he was able to help fix my bike. I remember crying to him that I thought I had a concussion and I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish the race. He asked me if I knew what day it was and I answered correctly so he let me go and told me to be very careful.

Almost everyone on the course was riding in huge groups that day, even the pros. If you were not, you were in the minority. I was so angry for most of the bike, watching athletes coast on someone else’s wheel easily going 25 mph. I called them out. I got nasty replies back, including a “F*@# you!” from Zoe Bello, the girl who would end up taking first and a Kona slot in the 18-24 age group. She stuck out to quite a few of us out there because she was constantly jumping on everyone’s wheel with no remorse. I didn’t see a single race marshal or ANYONE in the penalty tents all day. For a North American Championship race, it’s absolutely unacceptable. I tried to avoid these groups as much as possible because, first and foremost, it was ILLEGAL. But second, I know a lot of these athletes don’t have great bike handling skills. But this particular peloton literally enveloped me from behind and I couldn’t go anywhere. And then it happened in a split second.

30425431_10214360185411562_1398443541065152351_o
Zoe Bello on the yellow bike | Credit: Philip Shama


I decided to try to finish the remaining 50 miles of the bike and I spent the next 2.5 hours trying to fight an outflow of tears at what had happened. I had made such a concerted effort to race clean and honest only to end up the victim of someone else’s poor, selfish decisions.
 

My headache got worse and I only made it about 4 miles into the run before I started getting dizzy and nauseous and the medical staff said I had a concussion and I should to be sent to the main medical tent to be evaluated. After working in a hospital Neuro ICU last year, I take head injuries seriously, so I listened. Although disappointing, it was an easy decision because the risk just wasn’t worth it. My first ever DNF. In 13 years.

31417035_10210744231313156_4130670447442264064_o
 

I race bikes outside of triathlon. There is a reason why time trial bikes should never be ridden in groups. Not only is it illegal in race situations but, due to inaccessibility of brakes and decreased stability and control, it is incredibly dangerous.

It is going to take me some time to recover from this concussion and to let the superficial wounds heal. I am pretty upset about my money wasted on trying to make this great race and possibly a Kona qualifier. Ironman races are very expensive. I don’t have a disposable income so I have to pick and choose my races very carefully. I used some of my grad student loans and even some of my savings for Ironman Texas because I have big dreams and I work hard and make sacrifices to reach them. 
 

However, I’m not sure what’s more contemptible – triathletes who blatantly draft, or an organization that charges top dollar to put on a safe and fair race, and then fails to enforce the rules and blatantly ignores the cheating.

 

I’m furious at and disappointed with Ironman for not putting athlete safety first. My second lap of the bike course almost felt like a war zone, with ambulance after ambulance zooming by. I remember riding over fresh blood still on the road from a crash that had been cleared up just moments before. A little traumatizing. This is not what I signed up for. This is not what I paid for.

A friend was tracking seven people at Ironman Texas. Three of them (including me) crashed on bike course, resulting in a DNF. An easy solution would be to simply start enforcing the rules with higher penalties. But for some reason, Ironman seems incapable of doing that. Maybe it’s time for a Bike Safe initiative to complement the SwimSmart program Ironman made. IM bike courses have simply become too crowded… and with too much blatant drafting and not enough officials enforcing the rules… they are dangerous to ride. Actually, Ironman should limit the number of participants entering these races. It’s not that hard if you prioritize athlete safety over $$. 

Drafters cheat honest athletes by getting an unfair advantage and skewing the results, and in this case injuring multiple other riders, including myself. My day ended in the medical tent getting treated for a concussion instead of crossing the finish line, so we can’t sit here and pretend that the drafters are only cheating themselves.

Screen Shot 2018-05-12 at 10.02.38 PM
Credit: @FamousDrafters
_________

So these are just a few of my ideas on how Ironman can improve. Will they consider any of these? Probably not. But I’ll continue to do my part to enforce clean and honest racing. I also put my support behind the Clean Sport Collective, which aims to end doping and restore integrity to the sport. Drafting isn’t necessarily doping, but it is just as dishonest if you voluntarily, by your own will, choose to partake.

So with that, I urge all of you to also support and stand up for the pursuit of clean and fair sport, and to hold accountable those who chose to cheat.

Thank you to everyone’s kind words after the race. Even though I wasn’t supposed to be looking at my phone or computer screen, you all made me smile. I’m sad I didn’t get to do what I came to The Woodlands to do. But I’m lucky to get back on my bike and not end up in the hospital.  I’m incredibly thankful to have the support of Coeur Sports through this. Kebby and Hailey always seem to find the positives during trying times ❤ Serious shoutout to my incredible sister and race sherpa Rachel for all your support and help that weekend! And I’m extra thankful for my husband Olof, who dropped out of his race halfway through the run when Rachel told him I had crashed and was in the med tent.

 

So yes, my friends and family. Things to smile about. And some wise words from Maya Angelou:

‘You may encounter many defeats but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter those defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can ride from, how you can still come out of it.’

Stay safe out there, friends. Race clean. Race honest.

 

Advertisements

27 thoughts on “Swim Draft Run

  1. Mike

    Caitlin,
    I was riding the northbound leg , passing a small group of riders (riding legally) on the left when I believe your wreck occurred. I write, “believe “ because there were a lot of people on the ground all along the course. I was coming up on the first rider in the group and we heard the initial sound of carbon hitting the ground and then looked up to see the other riders going down. The group veered over into our side of the Hardy and everyone on our side veered closer to the center concrete divider – this event was captured in the Transtar camera and is pretty infamous.

    No one in the group stopped. We road about 1/2 mile and I saw a tech on a moped helping a rider with a wheel issue. I yelled to the tech that 4 or 5 people went down. I’m guessing that he was the one that made his way to you.

    Really sorry about your race. It sucked out there because there were riders riding or trying to ride clean.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes!! That was the crash caught on the traffic camera. The sad part is that no one in the group stopped and they reformed their peloton just seconds after the crash, also seen on camera. I’m glad none of the swerving riders hit any of you oncoming riders.

      Like

    2. Anthony Park

      Mike I was right behind you, and saw that crash, first I saw one bike on the right fly into the air, and veer left, it took two or three riders down, the blatent blocking in that group peeved me and you had to get around the melee by almost riding into a peleton coming in the another direction. Yes I saw you ride on the shoulder to the tech, and yes thanks you correctly did the right thing. Re-this post, I think she hits the nail on the head, I for one will not go back to Texas if that is what people want, it was blatent and then to boast and great PR time…who cares! The girl who took the Kona slot in the 20-24 , I watched her and she continued to ride less than 18 inches from wheels jumping from rider to rider who was ever trying to pull away. She rode aggressively and yes dangerously. I am still annoyed about this even two weeks out….Tony P

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am right there with you Anthony. Ironman responsed to an email my friend sent, who was 2nd behind that girl in her AG. They basically agreed that she had cheated, but that they couldn’t do anything retroactively. Then they proceeded to tell my friend she should still be proud of her accomplishments and that ‘ultimately integrity wins over those who lack integrity’. Pretty ironic response if you ask me.

        Like

  2. This is a serious & dangerous situation that IM cannot ignore! The credibility of the race is diminishing into a joke. You were smart to stop running with a concussion. I think IM should refund your fees due to their negligence in maintaining the rules to avoid this kind of situation. I know how frustrating it is when others are drafting (cheating) & then winning as a result & no penalties while you & others are riding clean! It’s all about the money these days. Glad you are on your way to recovery & do not give up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. David Reynolds

    The AG drafting was bad, I am so sorry this happened. Hopefully IM will realize they need to have more refs and control over this.

    That said I have issues with the pro women pic that says credit @famousdrafters, that is my picture and not accurate. I have talked about it and honestly don’t appreciate someone using my picture of a millisecond in time to try and make it out like that group was cheating like the age groupers.
    It is a complete misrepresentation of the 30 seconds or so as they passed me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi David – I’m sorry they used your picture without permission. I saw the pro women on the course a few times and saw them drafting. I also heard accounts from other athletes that support the same thing. Perhaps it wasn’t happening the entire time, but it happened nonetheless.

      Like

      1. David Reynolds

        I hope you are doing better.

        It was a pretty bad situation and I am sorry you got dragged into it.
        These sort of things shouldn’t happen and hopefully IM will listen to all the feedback, it would be hard to ignore.
        I did see the age groupers and it was a 😮 moment.
        You were very lucky it wasn’t worse and it saddens me the lack of respect, support and honesty that was displayed.
        I hope you heal up, get answers and help initiate change.

        PS
        I didn’t mean to come off so mad last night. It was just surprising to see my photos being used from / credited to that twitter account in such a way without any request or mention to me.
        It happens.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Shai Simchi

    I started doing Triathlon in 1991.
    Did my first Ironman race in 2012 (Canada).
    Last one in AZ in 2014.
    I am done with Triathlon (for now at least). This sport is no longer what it used to be and even more so in WTC events. WTC is using the fact that “You are an Ironman” became bucket list.
    Events sell out within minutes and thousands of people toe the start lines.
    In most race courses it is nearly impossible to ride legally. Bucket list + a money making machine bring these results.
    Add to that the fact that Kona is a glorified holy grail (i never qualified) and you get those types that will do anything to get there and you know the stories:
    Doping
    Drafting
    Cutting courses short
    Getting air out of rivals wheels
    The list goes on…
    So while I like the roots of triathlon, the sport, and especially WTC events are at a bad place now.
    Hope you get a response from WTC. Sorry about your crash and hope you heal fast and keep going after your goals!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am so sorry that this happened to you and hope you are recovering well! I hope that this report and others like it will lead to a change in how Ironman operates – thank you for sharing and best of luck in your next endeavor!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Caitlin,

    I’m glad you are feeling better. I was also on the course that day, and just aghast at the blatant cheating. And I’m even more dismayed reading the justifications for it on ST. As you and I know, the huge pelotons were for the WHOLE race, and there were at least four of them. I also know someone that got pushed off the road and went down, and could not finish, and I also saw several female pros within the draft packs (one of whom I personally know).

    I will certainly not race Texas again. This was my first Ironman branded race in a few years, and it might be the last. Did you see that Challenge is re-entering the US market with a half-distance race in December in Daytona?

    If you click through to my blog you can read my race report — I will go back in there and link to your story. cfrietch.com

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Caitlin – I tried to reach out to you through IG but not sure if the message came through.

    I am Director of Operations at REV3 Triathlon based in Manassas, VA. Our event philosophy is very much “Athlete First”. We pride ourselves on our athlete experience.

    In the coming months we will be staging events at Quassy in CT and in Williamsburg, VA. I would like to invite you to come and race for free at either of these events. Please contact me at coach.gotta@gmail.com or 804-310-2087 to discuss. I look forward to speaking with you soon. Our website is http://www.rev3tri.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I got your message on Instagram! Thank you SO much. I will message you back there. Click through some of my races reports. I have some great things to say about Rev3. I always loved their races. I’ve done Quassy Oly and Half and Williamsburg!!

      Like

  8. Nadia

    REV-3, your gesture is grandiose! I and my husband will race in Virginia next year with you guys. My husband did IMTX and saw the cheating fest it was. We are disgusted. I personally will never race an IM brand ever again.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I hope you recover well and quickly Caitlin. I have raced triathlons since the Bud Light USTS days, including 5 IRONMANs and have produced over 100 Triathlons as an RD. It is a different crowd racing today. They do it for the finisher medals and tattoos. Not like it used to be. Thanks for your letter. I will share.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Chris

    My wife just did Ironman Santa Rosa over the weekend and she did not see a single marshal on the entire bike course. It seems that WTC is cutting expenses at the expense of the athletes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Josh

      I also raced Ironman Santa Rosa this past weekend. There was definitely a marshal out on the course as I saw someone on 3 different occasions on 3 very different parts of the bike course. Twice while being passed by the marshal I saw them writing in a book (surely someone’s race number), and once witnessed them give a blocking penalty to someone that was riding down the middle of the lane for a while instead of toward the right.

      Just so you don’t give up all hope on Ironman, there was someone out there handing out penalties.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Dave Campbell

    One reason I love short course racing, with hills. Short course folks tend to be Type A about racing. Many long course are OCD and it seems to be life or death to them. For all of us, THIS IS JUST A HOBBY!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Claudia

    I was at the airport talking with a few men who also competed in IM Texas, and they also complained about the disgraceful bike riding.
    Nothing like cheating! Very un-ironman like!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s